A Meter of Exile
The Poetry of Ibrahim Nasrallah
Translations and introduction by Omnia Amin
Poetry by Ibrahim Nasrallah
Ibrahim Nasrallah was born in Jordan in the Al-Wihdat refugee camp in 1954 to parents who had fled their homeland village Al Breuij near Jerusalem as a result of Israeli occupation. The 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and the violence that followed, led to the Palestinian Diaspora, in which many, like Nasrallah’s parents, lived in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. Having lost most of their homeland, Palestinians remained confined to the Gaza Strip or West Bank, living as second-class citizens, or to exile in different parts of the world.
Nasrallah spent the first thirty-three years of his life in a refugee camp. It was the harsh and life-threatening conditions there that made him into a poet. In the ninth grade when he was attending school at the United Nations’ Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), his Arabic teacher was killed by a bomb that scattered his body all over the yard of his small house. The incident prompted Nasrallah to write his first verses, an elegy to the wasted life of his teacher. This early attempt was to be followed by many more, ranging from a child’s dream of having a safe roof and a soft bed of his own to more complex notions of the suffering of the Palestinian people. The camp became his first true exile, and the intense mixture of emotions he felt during the time he lived there drove his poetic and artistic experience beyond an individual sense of exile as a Palestinian refugee, to a more profound, universal conception that includes all exiles around the world, from the dawn of history to the present day.
Nasrallah has been awarded a number of prestigious prizes, including the Arar Literary Award for Arab poets in 1991, Al Awais Literary Award for Arab poetry in 1997, and the Katara Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2016 for his novel The Spirits of Kilimanjaro. He was short-listed for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction for The Time of White Horses, and long-listed twice for The Lanterns of the King of Galilee and Balcony of Abyss. In addition, he is a painter and photographer and has participated in several exhibitions around the world.
The five poems that follow, newly translated, are taken from a number of his books focusing on the theme of exile mixed with nostalgia and dreams of returning home.
The field's window: a cloud
The poem's window: a wing
The painting's window: an eye
The lover's window: a dream
The window of the lost: a shadow
The window of exile: a homeland
Beyond the times of killing!
I will remember every day
I will remember that
I’ve forgotten how with carefree steps
I used to run by the shore of Haifa
Ever since that day I have been stumbling
from one exile to another
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feature in the print issue.
Publication Date: May 17